Major Vatican Victory for Pro-Life Activists as Vatican Newspaper Rehabilitates Heroically Pro-Life

By John-Henry Westen

ROME, July 13, 2009 ( - "Retractions. The Holy Office Teaches Archbishop Fisichella a Lesson": that is how long-time Vatican expert reporter Sandro Magister of Chiesa characterized an article published Friday in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF). (see coverage here)

A March 15 article by the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Salvatore (Rino) Fisichella, created a substantial outcry from pro-life leaders internationally who said it besmirched the reputation of strongly pro-life Brazilian Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, and also left many to believe that the Church had weakened its teaching against abortion.

The clarification, in addition to restating the Church's stance on abortion - including the teaching that those directly involved in an abortion are automatically excommunicated - also cleared Archbishop Cardoso of any wrongdoing. Fisichella's article, entitled "On the Side of the Brazilian Girl," criticized Cardoso for announcing that automatic excommunication would be incurred by the abortionists in the hard case of a nine-year-old rape victim who was found to be carrying twins. Fisichella did not call Archbishop Sobrinho to verify the facts of the case before criticizing him in the pages of the Vatican newspaper.  

Fisichella wrote: "Before thinking about excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard her innocent life and bring it up to a level of humanity for which we men of the Church should have been the professional heralds and teachers.  It did not happen so, and unfortunately, this has affected the credibility of our teaching."

The CDF clarification says the opposite, observing that the girl "had been accompanied with all pastoral delicacy, in particular by the archbishop of Olinda and Recife at the time, His Excellency Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho."

The move is especially significant as Archbishop Fisichella had rejected a request from 27 of the 46 Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (of which he is the president) to correct his article of March 15.

The initial refusals to correct the article were devastating for the pro-life movement worldwide. The secular press and the pro-abortion lobby responded promptly to the article, with headlines and hundreds of articles and editorials claiming that Fisichella was hinting at a softening of the Church's position on abortion. The Associated Press announced, "Vatican prelate defends abortion for 9-year-old." The Washington Post said, "Vatican Official Defends Child's Abortion."

Significantly, Fisichella's article was highly praised by Frances Kissling, the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, an abortion lobby group that presents itself as Catholic and attempts to pressure the Catholic Church to abandon its teachings on life and family.

In a widely published essay, Kissling called Fisichella's article "an amazing shift in the Vatican's strategy of no dissent from its position that direct abortion is never permitted." She said it was a "modest deviation" that "opens the door for Catholics who follow church teachings on reproduction to discuss the possibility that there are some cases officially acknowledged where individuals can choose abortion and have a calm conscience."

The clarification is an impressive compilation of most of the strongest statements of the Church in defense of human life.  It runs through teachings from the Bible, the early Church, Councils and Popes, reaffirming constantly that abortion is absolutely prohibited and an "abominable crime."

Judie Brown, one of the Members of the Pontifical Academy told she was very pleased with the CDF clarification. Brown, who is also the President of American Life League Brown, noted that the Vatican examined carefully the ramifications of what the archbishop had said, and the effect it had on the faithful and thus decided to issue the clarification, forcefully restating the Church's teaching on the evil of abortion.

Brown compared the matter to that of the ongoing saga in Canada where the Canadian Bishops Conference is denying the funding of pro-abortion groups in the developing world by its official development arm, despite clear evidence demonstrating otherwise.  She suggested that if the Vatican itself could re-examine a situation and issue a clarification, the Canadian bishops could also do likewise.

John Smeaton, President of England's largest pro-life group - the Society for the Protection of Unborn Chilren (SPUC) - was one of the key pro-life voices in the Fisichella/Sobrinho controversy.  Smeaton says he sees in the CDF clarification a major victory and expressed congratulations to all those involved, including LSN.

"LifeSite and along with it many other major groups and leading figures within the Church raised their deep concerns about issues touched upon in Archbishop Fisichella's original article," said Smeaton in a phone interview from England.  "I feel they ought to be congratulated for their fortitude and their adherence to the hard facts of the matter.  And indeed their charity in raising this matter for the good of the Church, for the protection of the reputation of a magnificent pastor - Archbishop Cardoso and ultimately for the protection of the family at the centre of this tragic episode."

The pro-life leader closest to the action in the case was Human Life International's Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro. Speaking to LSN from the Rome office of HLI, he described the CDF clarification as a heaven-sent victory, and specifically thanked LSN for its coverage of the issue.

"This document of clarification published by the CDF, as it states in the document itself, is the outcome of the efforts of many pro-lifers worldwide that expressed their concerns about the article written by Archbishop Fisichella," he said.  "One of the institutions that contributed to the publication of this new document was LifeSite.  

"Only God knows what contributed the most, but it is the joint effort of many persons and there's no doubt that all the publicity that you gave to this sad case contributed to this document."

But the pro-life movement has one Person to thank more than all others for this outcome, suggested Barreiro. "We are grateful to the Lord for this outcome," he said. "You see the seal approval of the Lord when something happens," adding quickly, "sometimes you will only know in heaven."

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